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What is important is that we have recognized that increasingly we need to be aware of the need to address cyber security issues. That's why the National Cyber Security Centre has been set up.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: The British Prime Minister Theresa May stating the obvious after the National Health Service in her country became one of the largest casualties of the WannaCry ransomware attack. There are accusations that Britain's health service and the government minister responsible for it ignored warnings that its cyber security needed updating. Others tracking this worldwide are less accusatory but they do say the hobbling of so many systems in so many countries in the last few days is a wakeup call to those organizations slow to update their IT infrastructure. In a moment, the story of the weaponizing of WannaCry, cyber sleuthing and the man who accidentally made the malware malfunction. And let's just stay with the power of computers today. It was 20 years ago that the chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov took on an IBM computer named Deep Blue.
The idea of this match is much wider than chess itself. It's man versus the computer. People have this fear—computer will replace us, will control our life.
AMT: Deep Blue’s narrow but crushing defeat was painful for the master. Since then, he’s dabbled in artificial intelligence and Russian politics. He believes computers can amplify our intelligence. He also worries governments can use new technologies against freedom. In half an hour, Garry Kasparov joins me to join deep thoughts. And we can’t talk computers without considering the gadget that dominates the life of every kid in the land.
I can’t go anywhere without my phone. I can’t do anything without it because when it’s not with me, I don’t feel complete and I feel very scared.
AMT: In an hour, we follow up on yesterday's discussion on tech addiction—nomophobia—the irresistible draw of technology and what to do about it. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.Back To Top »
How to defend yourself against ransomware cyberattacks
Guests: Mark Scott, Neil Walsh
VOICE 1: A major so-called ransomware attack is under way worldwide.
VOICE 2: This attack is being described as one of the largest global ransomware attacks the cyber community has ever seen.
VOICE 3: The computer virus known as WannaCry—and there are probably a few system administrators who do want to cry—locks up all the data on a computer and then demands a ransom to release it.
VOICE 4: The malware displays a screen demanding $300 and the cyber currency Bitcoin from the owners of the affected computers.
VOICE 5: Hospitals told patients to avoid the ER unless absolutely necessary. Signs warned of significant delays and some non-urgent surgeries were postponed.
VOICE 6: I think it's a heinous crime, this hacking, because they’re putting people’s lives at risk.
AMT: Well, that last voice was a hospital patient in the UK, one of many people whose lives were affected over the last few days by the WannaCry ransomware attack. Canada, we’re being told was merely lucky not to have been more caught up in this global event. Even so, the government of Saskatchewan has suffered a cyber-attack in recent days, taking down official government websites. Cyber-attacks have never been a clearer or more present danger and as they hit closer to home, we're asking what can and is being done to protect against the next one. Mark Scott is the European tech correspondent for the New York Times. He joins us from Rome. Hello.
MARK SCOTT: Good morning, Anna Maria.
AMT: Just take us through it. What has WannaCry been able to do since last week?
MARK SCOTT: So when it kicked off on Friday afternoon European time, it's taken down arguably 200,000 victims so far and hundreds of thousands of computers from China to Russia to Britain and even some in Canada.
AMT: And there are now reports of a suspected North Korean link?
MARK SCOTT: Right now investigators both in the private sector and in law enforcement are looking and hunting for the potential attackers worldwide. Some are linking some of the code in this attack to past attacks linked to North Korea codes. At the moment we don't really know if it's for certain. But at the moment, people are potentially linking it to North Korea.
AMT: And now how does WannaCry work?
MARK SCOTT: I mean that is the $64 million question. To be fair, it actually isn't that technical. But what’s different is the global nature of this attack. So what it does: a victim's computer is taken over by this virus. It locks out the individual so you can't get access to your data and then you have to pay three $600 through something called Bitcoin, a very techie online currency to gain access back to your computer.
AMT: And that of course then becomes the ransom to unlock it.
MARK SCOTT: Exactly.
AMT: Now that's for individuals. What about institutions? What kind of ransom were they being urged to pay? Do you know?
MARK SCOTT: It's about the same price. But again for example in Britain with the National Health Service, they have tens of thousands of computers affected. So you can imagine 300 bucks times even 10,000. That can add up pretty quickly.
AMT: And was there any indication that an attack such as this was on its way?
MARK SCOTT: Yes and no. In the short term no one knew this was going to happen. But in the last say, 12, 18 months, there's been a growing rise of ransomware attacks at a lower level worldwide. So people I've been talking to were expecting something like this, but no one expected it to come last Friday.
AMT: And how prepared were governments and corporations then?
MARK SCOTT: Again, it depends who you talk to.
AMT: I guess now we know, huh?
MARK SCOTT: Exactly. On average they weren't that prepared mostly because—it sounds quite geeky—but no one wants to spend money on upgrading IT and computers. It's not really a priority for most people.
AMT: Well, how harmful is this, Mark?
MARK SCOTT: It can be quite devastating. So my colleagues in London have been reporting stories related to that health care service and patients have been completely affected. We've had attacks against say, the Russian Interior Ministry. The effects are likely to be felt both not in months, but in years.
AMT: And so there are some good guys in this story. Tell us about the so-called accidental heroes who slowed it down.
MARK SCOTT: So when this kicked off Friday afternoon in Britain, a 22-year-old researcher based in Britain was looking through some of the code, realized there was a quite technical way to stop this from spreading directly to Canada and the United States by registering a quite long and complicated website domain name. He did this completely by accident, expecting it to sort of not have much an effect. But when he did that, it completely shut the virus from spreading into North America.
AMT: And so by registering the domain name that he saw, this was something he was doing because that's how he was sort of tracking bots for his firm anyway. Am I right?
MARK SCOTT: Exactly. He did not do this expecting it to be shut down. He did this frankly—what he told me—was on a whim and he was saying to me that it cost him about 10 bucks to register this domain name. He could have got it for free and he was kind of moaning that you know if he knew that, he wouldn't spend the 10 bucks to shut this down.
AMT: So the domain, just explain how that works then. There's something in the domain name that triggers the malware to stop?
MARK SCOTT: Exactly. So it's quite complicated but what happens is the virus is spreading worldwide and on a regular basis, it'll ping back to this website online and it has been told that once that website goes online, it stops spreading. Again, it's a very basic version of what happened. So when this individual registered the domain name by accident, it told the virus pretty much just to put down tools and stop.
AMT: So he was working on that because it was trying to investigate what was going on, right? How are cyber-attacks investigated?
MARK SCOTT: Well, it's very complicated because most of these attacks are inherently global. The Internet oversees global and so we have the FBI, their equivalents in Europe looking and scanning through the code and looking for—they call them digital breadcrumbs—that can link past attacks to this most recent attack, hopefully trying to tie known criminals to what's been going on in the last couple of days.
AMT: And what kind of challenges do they face with those as they look for those little breadcrumbs?
MARK SCOTT: Well, someone told me it’s kind of looking for a needle in a stack of needles. It's almost impossible to really know who these individuals are without them making a mistake. And so although we have law enforcement and private security hunting for these individuals now, it will take months, if ever, for them to find out who exactly caused this crime.
AMT: And is it clear why? Is it organized crime trying to get money out of people or is it something about trying to shut down government institutions?
MARK SCOTT: At the moment, we don't know for certain. But if you look at how this has been spread, it seems quite just indiscriminate. So the suggestion probably is this is done purely for financial gain rather than for anything else.
AMT: And there are relatively simple ways to protect computers from this kind of ransomware, are there not?
MARK SCOTT: Exactly. The most important thing people can do is just to keep their software updated. So when for example, if you’re using Microsoft Windows and you get that little box that appears saying please upgrade, just push the button and upgrade.
AMT: Okay. And what about corporations?
MARK SCOTT: That's more complicated purely because there are more machines to deal with. But the most obvious advice to both people and companies is to keep upgrading and frankly spend some money on making sure you have the best cyber security available.
AMT: And in all of this, Russia was hit as well because of course, Russia has been at the forefront of news about leaks and being able to get into other people's computers. Where is Russia in all of this?
MARK SCOTT: I think it's the most at the moment affected country by the number of computers affected. And sometimes it's easy to call every cyber-attack the same, but again, what's been happening potentially elsewhere in connection to Russia doesn't have much to do with this. It's just, if I’m honest, slightly ironic that now Russia is being one of the most affected by this.
AMT: Okay. Well, Mark Scott, thanks for your insights.
MARK SCOTT: Thank you very much.
AMT: Mark Scott, European tech correspondent for the New York Times. We reached him in Rome. Well, the WannaCry attack was truly global in scope, rocking dozens of countries and cyber crimes such as these have caught the attention of the United Nations. Neil Walsh directs the UN's global program on cybercrime which is part of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime. And we’ve reached Neil Walsh in Vienna, Austria. Hi.
NEIL WALSH: Anna Maria, good morning.
AMT: I think it speaks to how serious this is. In the Office of Drugs and Crime, you've added things like this now, huh?
NEIL WALSH: Yeah. We've been investigating and helping member states around the world to investigate cybercrimes for the past few years now. So I have [unintelligible] in four continents who helped mentor cops, prosecutors and judges to investigate attacks just like this.
AMT: How surprised were you by the magnitude of this one?
NEIL WALSH: Yeah, I think everyone has said the same thing, that it is bigger than we've seen before in terms of ransomware. Whether it's specifically targeted on individuals or countries we're still not sure of.
AMT: And you know we see that world leaders including presidents Trump and Putin, the prime minister of Britain are really speaking out about this. What does that say about the scope of the attack?
NEIL WALSH: I think if there is a positive to take from this, the fact that it has got the attention of senior politicians, policymakers and leaders around the world can only be a good thing. Within law enforcement, within diplomacy for the past couple of years, we've been explaining the threat from ransomware, and now to hear it coming out from leaders like that is only positive. It helps the public to become aware and protect themselves.
AMT: So the UK's National Health Service was badly hit. It's been criticized for using outdated software despite repeated warnings. Is that fair criticism?
NEIL WALSH: I think in terms of criticism, I wouldn’t get into that space. That's a matter for the UK to respond to. But what it does show us is that if we don't keep our systems, like Mark said, up to date with the appropriate security patches, then we are at risk. But I think it also shows that everyone—every one of us—has a role to play in cyber security. This problem, this threat was shared by email so we all have to think about the emails that we open. What do we download? What attachments do we open? We can all be a part of the solution.
AMT: Okay. So it individually it can be spread, but institutionally, how do people deal with the fact that they might be working in an institution that isn't as vigilant as it might be?
NEIL WALSH: Yeah. It's a really fair comment. I think again what this proves is that cyber security and countering cybercrime is not simply a role of an IT department. It is the role of chief executives and the board level decision makers. Every company, every government, every government department must have a cyber-security plan. They must [unintelligible] it, they must practice it so that when things like this happen, they're ready for it.
AMT: There are people who get hit individually as we know. Should people ever pay cyber ransoms to get their personal data back?
NEIL WALSH: No. We certainly wouldn't advocate paying a ransom. Paying a ransom helps to propagate the criminal business model and remember you are dealing with a criminal. If you pay them, there is firstly, no guarantee that they will decrypt your data and secondly, no guarantee that they won't hit you again straightaway.
AMT: And so they demand ransom in Bitcoin. How hard is it to track a Bitcoin payment?
NEIL WALSH: It's not easy but it's not impossible either. And within my program, the program on cyber crime, we work with the world leading partner called Chainanalysis and we help cops and prosecutors around the world to actually track Bitcoin and other crypto currencies through the block chain. That gives us a leading edge trying to identify where a criminal is and most importantly, where they're trying to cash out the profit that they’ve made in a virtual currency.
AMT: And when it comes to ransom, people want their information back. They also don't want their information spread out elsewhere. How many of these attacks have you seen where people don't pay, that it escalates?
NEIL WALSH: I think the majority of people don't pay because they recognize the risk that by paying, they might not get the data back. Most ransomware attacks have a time limit on it. So when your computer is compromised, you'll get a countdown timer on the screen so that you don't pay, then your data is lost. This is part of a social engineering from the criminals to try and force you to pay. So you can prevent it and you can prevent it quite easily. Backup your data. Backup the data that's most important to you because you can't be held ransom for something that you hold elsewhere. Keep your computer up to date and have a good up-to-date anti-virus software. That way you are minimizing your risk.
AMT: Do we know what happened with the National Health Services in Britain? All their patient data? Was it backed up? Do we know what they've lost?
NEIL WALSH: I have no sight of that and I think I’d have to direct you to them to get a response on that.
AMT: Fair enough.
NEIL WALSH: But from everything I’ve seen in open source is that there was no patient data compromised. But again, you’d have to reach them to get a comment on that.
AMT: So how much of a wakeup call is this attack for governments and organizations and law enforcement?
NEIL WALSH: I think the fact that I've spent the past day and a half on TV and radio around the world is showing this that this is getting the public consciousness and it’s getting the consciousness of policymakers. So I would hope that people recognize across governments and across business they need to protect themselves and within the United Nations’ Office of Drugs and Crime, that's our role to help do that.
AMT: But we're talking about if you're going to do that, then it does become a policy and governments have to put actual money into making this happen. Do they not?
NEIL WALSH: Yep. Absolutely. It does take investment and it takes a good public awareness campaign as well because you can invest an enormous amount of money in IT security, but still you're relying on your end user, the person who is touching that computer in protecting your system. If they open the wrong e-mail or they put an infected device into your system, then you have a problem. So often we hear people described as the biggest risk but with some education, some preventive guidance, people can be in the strongest part of the armory of preventing cyber crime.
AMT: And so you are training investigators and prosecutors around the world. How many people are going through your system?
NEIL WALSH: I currently have staff who are based throughout Central America—a lot of it is funded by the Canadian government—and then into the Middle East, North Africa and down into Southeast Asia. In the past year alone, we’ve trained cops and prosecutors and judges from over 50 countries and we've actually reached over 11,000 children through schools to help them understand what cyber risk is online and to become a really important part of preventing crime.
AMT: So some of the people you've been training would have kicked in when this happened.
NEIL WALSH: Yes, I would certainly hope so. And some of the messages I've been getting proves that the message is getting through.
AMT: Okay. And so again, what do we need to remember with our own personal data?
NEIL WALSH: So keep your computer up to date. Like Mark said, if you get that message on your screen saying update your software, do it straight away. Make sure that you have a good reputable anti-virus software that's available for free. Download it. Keep it up to date. Backup your data. Backup your data onto a separate hard drive. So a flash drive, a USB stick, and keep it away from your computer. You should only connect that device when you're doing your backup. That way if your computer is compromised, you don't release the data.
AMT: Neil Walsh, thanks very much.
NEIL WALSH: Thank you.
AMT: Neil Walsh, director of the global program on cybercrime with the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. He joined us from Vienna, Austria. We’ve got a little bit of time to share some feedback on a story we brought you yesterday.
VOICE 1: I wanted to touch on that very heated subject and I was aware of the debates around that and I wanted to push back a little bit on the idea that we should be very, very wary and very hesitant to invoke other cultures and perspectives in our writing.
VOICE 2: To see these elites at the top of the industry openly mock on social media an entire conversation and a group of people leading the conversation is not just pitiful and shameful, but it is cowardly and hurtful.
AMT: Well, that's Toronto-based author Hal Niedzviecki. His editorial column “Winning the Appropriation Prize” sparked a good deal of controversy, especially after top media bosses pledged money for such a prize. The controversy was on Twitter and off. You can hear Anishinaabe writer and comedian Ryan McMahon there responding to some of the fallout. You can hear all of that conversation on our website or on our radio app. We asked for some of your thoughts after yesterday's show. I'll read some of what you sent. Rita Archer from Salt Spring Island in BC emailed: “Readers should be free to decide which authors and books they want to read. This entire discussion simply underlines the parochial nature of CanLit. Time to grow up!” Kim Tallbear tweeted: “It is actually also white privilege not to be aware that cultural appropriation is a pervasive and already deeply analyzed problem. Che Marville tweeted: “Privilege makes the elite blind to their own ignorance and makes it acceptable that so many of us are invisible in our nation.” John Sollows from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia wrote: “We need to listen to one another a lot more than we currently do. When we hear a troubling remark, we need to find out where the speaker is coming from before we decide to get outraged. Most of us are both well-intentioned and otherwise respectable. Most of us are also wrong sometimes because we're all human.” On Facebook, Janey David Marshall posts: “What has the world come to that a fellow must resign for using a phrase which is nebulous at best. Someone who asks us to think in a different way, or consider alternatives, should be and remain free to do so.” And finally, Christine Didur writes: “I am so tired of white men telling me how to think, behave, feel and then when I respond, telling me I am too sensitive. Maybe these guys need to learn something. He was not misunderstood. He was being a typical white male in a power position. I am glad he is gone.” Again, you can hear my conversation with writers Hal Niedzviecki and Ryan McMahon online, at www.cbc.ca/thecurrent or on the CBC Radio app. And stay with us. The CBC News is next and then—
The world is far more complicated place than the chess board because in chess we have rules and in many parts of the world, especially in Russia for instance, there are no rules.
AMT: The man who was the youngest ever world chess champion Garry Kasparov is my guest in our next half hour. We'll be talking about the days that he went up against the IBM computer, Deep Blue. We'll be talking about his view of politics as well. This is a man who ran for president of Russia many years later. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM, online on www.cbc.ca/thecurrent and on your radio app.
[Music: Sting]Back To Top »
Defeated by a computer, world chess champion Garry Kasparov embraces artificial intelligence
Guests: Garry Kasparov
AMT: Hello. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, you're not alone if there's a teenager in your life who simply will not or cannot put down the smartphone. But when does it become a technology addiction and when should you be concerned? In half an hour, we continue our conversation about technology addiction with a social worker who counsels teens who are concerned about their own phone use. But first, in the dawning world of artificial intelligence, who is the pawn? Who is the king?
VOICE 1: Call it a blow against humanity. After six games over nine days, Deep Blue, the IBM computer beat Garry Kasparov, considered to be the best chess player in the history of the game.
VOICE 2: And woah, Deep Blue, Kasparov.
VOICE 1: The great Russian champion was not a graceful loser.
AMT: Well, it has been 20 years since that epic battle between man and machine. The news report was from 1997 and Garry Kasparov versus the IBM computer Deep Blue. The Russian grandmaster and former world chess champion is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in the history of the game. But it is that battle against a faceless opponent that he will perhaps be best remembered for. A year earlier, he had defeated Deep Blue, but the rematch belonged to the computer and it certainly seemed at the time that by extension the future belonged to the computer as well. Garry Kasparov is reflecting on matches against Deep Blue and much more in his new book. It's called Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins. And he joins me in our Toronto studio. Welcome.
GARRY KASPAROV: Good morning.
AMT: When you look back at that loss, they called it a blow against humanity. Was it that?
GARRY KASPAROV: I guess it was an exaggeration, but obviously it was a milestone in the history of computer science and we should remember that the founding fathers of computer science like Alan Turing or Claude Shannon, they believed that if machine could beat human champion in chess, that will be a moment for artificial intelligence. In fact, they were wrong because I don't think that you can call Deep Blue intelligent. It was as intelligent as your alarm clock, though losing to $10 million alarm clock didn't make me feel any better. I want to be very cautious when people keep using this term “artificial intelligence” because we have to agree on the definition. Do we mean by saying AI, result or the process? Deep Blue reached the result. By the definition of its output, it was intelligent. It played world champion level chess. But when you look at the process, it offered us very little input into the mysteries of human intelligence.
AMT: And you actually won the first competition against Deep Blue the year before.
GARRY KASPAROV: Yeah, yeah. People don't recall it.
AMT: That's why I'm saying it. I’m putting it on the record. [laughs]
GARRY KASPAROV: But I think if you look at the milestones, I think the game one of the first match that I won eventually—I lost this game—that was a real milestone because the moment machine could beat the world champion in one game. The rest was you may call matter of technique. It's a matter of time. The signing was already on the wall and analyzing the games of that match—and I used modern computers. And I have to tell people that the free chess app on your mobile phone, it's probably stronger than Deep Blue today.
AMT: Is that right, huh?
GARRY KASPAROV: Absolutely. Because these machines are just getting stronger, faster. And what's happened with chess, the game could be crunched by brute force once hardware got fast enough, data base got big enough and algorithm got smart enough.
AMT: It's interesting that you say that because we have spoken here to Geoffrey Hinton who is seen as the godfather of artificial intelligence and he's at the University of Toronto and now has some association with Google as well. But he talks about the fact that when he was first starting to work on that, the machines just weren't fast enough and now they are. That part of when it comes to artificial intelligence, it's about the capacity of these machines.
GARRY KASPAROV: Yes and no. Absolutely, machines getting faster. That's why they could solve many other problems. Though chess as most of other games is mathematically infinite, the number of legal moves in the game of chess is more than number of atoms in the solar system. But it's not about solving the game. It's about beating human opponent and we're all vulnerable because we don't have the same steady hand as machine does and inevitably we’ll make mistakes or even inaccuracies that are not so important when one human face another human. But with machines, you'll be punished instantly for making a mistake. Though when I just looked at our games, analyzing them today, I found that not only I made mistakes but also Deep Blue made quite a few mistakes, which shows that machine’s progress is very natural. So they're incessantly getting better and better.
AMT: Well, in fact you make the point that one of the reasons it beat you in ‘97 was because they looked at ‘96 when you beat it and they reprogrammed a bit, right?
GARRY KASPAROV: It’s not about reprogram. I recommend they read the book because while I'm very complimentary about IBM science and the team that was behind it, then I still have many questions to the corporation and the way they organized the event because only one player in the match was under tremendous psychological pressure.
AMT: And I'm talking to him.
GARRY KASPAROV: Stupid, stupid mistakes. Stupid mistakes I made, the result was that I couldn't cope with the pressure and I would say questionable behaviour of the organizers.
AMT: They called you a sore loser.
GARRY KASPAROV: I said in the book I am a sore loser, yes. But you can’t stay on top for 20 years if you’re not a sore loser. You have to take it almost as a physical pain. And I blame myself for making these mistakes. But also now 20 years later, I could see that some of these mistakes were inevitable because I wasn't ready for a match win or lose. For me, it was still very much a great social and scientific experiment and I have been treating IBM in the process of preparing for the match as more like a partner than an opponent. And just when I got my wakeup call about harsh realities that IBM wanted just to win the match and didn't care much about continuation of this experiment, so that was too late.
AMT: How was playing chess against a computer different than playing against a human?
GARRY KASPAROV: Oh. When I first sat against Deep Blue across the chess board in 1996, first match, I was the world champion for more than 10 years. I played, I think, 182 games in the world championship matches and hundreds of other games against top grandmasters. And I knew my opponents. I knew what to expect from them. I knew what to expect from myself. I used to watch their body language and looked straight in the eyes to gauge their intentions and to measure their plans. And then I faced Deep Blue. It's so different because you don't know what to expect. This is something that literally comes out of a black box. And the psychology—which is a very important element of any human game—just is no longer there. In fact, actually it's there but there's only one way because you could be under pressure. You could make mistakes. Deep Blue doesn't care what happened in the previous game. It doesn't even know what's happened one move before. So there's so many things that could work for you in a “normal” chess against other humans. They are just either not working or are working against you when you face the faceless.
AMT: How did you prepare for that?
GARRY KASPAROV: That was a big question because not in 1996 or even in 1997, I had any access to Deep Blue games. In 1996 it was natural because there was a [unintelligible] of the machine. Then we had an agreement that I would look at the Deep Blue games in an interim period. But then there was a mistake in or slip in the contract and IBM pointed out that the contract referred only to the official games played by Deep Blue, which meant that all the games played in the lab of training games—and that's the only games Deep Blue played—were not available to me. So I still didn't know what to expect and it’s quite a challenge for someone like me who used to prepare a lot, analyzing the games of my opponents, facing again, black box because I didn't know what was there. No games. It was quite tough. So after winning the first match, losing the second one, I wanted to play the rubber match, the decisive match, but IBM decided to retire the computer.
AMT: Hmm. Yeah. Okay. How do you prepare physically for that?
GARRY KASPAROV: Physically for the Deep Blue or for other?
AMT: And for others. What was the physical preparation like?
GARRY KASPAROV: Oh. I kept myself in shape for my entire chess career. And even by the late nineties, I was in my thirties, so much older than most of my young opponents. But I kept winning tournaments because I was in excellent physical shape. I knew that there's always the correlation between your health and your physical shape that could give you confidence and your performance at the chessboard.
AMT: What was it, push ups? What were you doing?
GARRY KASPAROV: Hundred and seven. My personal record.
AMT: Hundred and seven push ups before a game? Before a match?
GARRY KASPAROV: No, no, no, no, no. It’s my personal record.
AMT: Oh, okay.
GARRY KASPAROV: You’re asking too much.
AMT: Okay. Well, that’s impressive too.
GARRY KASPAROV: Chess is quite a physical sport. When you play for two weeks and more and games could last for six hours, that takes a lot of your strength and it puts you under constant pressure.
AMT: Physically exhausting as well as mentally exhausting, yeah. Okay. Well, let's keep talking about artificial intelligence. You know there's an expectation that intelligent machines will displace workers. What do you think of that fear? Because you've been spending a lot of time looking at this.
GARRY KASPAROV: I'm surprised that people are surprised because that's the history of our civilization, history of progress. Machines replacing farm animals. Machine replacing manual labour. Now machines are coming after people's college degree and Twitter accounts. And that's why everybody is talking about it. But there's nothing wrong about that. I would say it's excellent news because every profession eventually should feel this pressure or else humanity will cease making progress. Machines will take over more menial parts of cognition and that will help us to boost our creativity and curiosity, by the way, let's not forget about beauty and joy. So we can do a lot of things if we keep pushing the horizons, if we're looking for new challenges. I would say machines won’t make us obsolete. Our complacency might. It's a new challenge for us but I think it's a great challenge because if machines are getting smarter, we are getting smarter and intelligent machines can help us to turn our grandest dreams into reality.
AMT: Did it take you a while to feel that way? I've read somewhere that you actually wanted to rip that Deep Blue apart.
GARRY KASPAROV: No, no, no. No, look. The reason I stayed on top for 20 years is because I was very good at analyzing my mistakes and coming back with new ideas. And after that match in 1997, while licking my wounds, I looked for an opportunity to combine human skills and machine skills and I came up with a concept I called advanced chess, when humans plus machine could play against another human plus machine. And there are many now games played on the Internet, what they call freestyle Internet where people could get together with machines and play against other humans that are using different computers. And what's happened that chess proved to be another perfect field to test human plus machine combination, which I believe is the future because there are so many things that we can combine—the machine’s brute force of calculation, machine’s algorithms. But on other side we have our experience, we have our strategic overview and look, we have purpose. Machines don't have purpose. We have passion. So there are many things that could go together and I think this kind of artificial intelligence that people are afraid of, it’s a way way to go. I don't want people to be overwhelmed by these dystopian views promoted by great movies like The Terminator or The Matrix.
AMT: I am wondering how you are watching and reacting to these big cyber malware attacks—the WannaCry ransomware and the use of computers for that kind of thing.
GARRY KASPAROV: That's very natural. You have hundreds of millions of billions of people with access to computers and Internet and even if you have one per cent of those that would like to use it for crimes or other illegal activities, you already have few millions of experts trying to go after you. It's another reality. Every new technology, every step of the progress has been accompanied by illegal activities, by attempts of some to get an advantage over you. And these cyber attacks, they will become part of our life and we just have to realize that we need to think about it seriously and we have to understand that combining privacy and security will be more and more difficult.
AMT: You are also a human rights advocate and I'm wondering how—
GARRY KASPAROV: I am.
AMT: I'm wondering how you see computers, the misuse of computers by government. You've raised concerns about government use of computers and artificial intelligence to threaten freedoms. Talk to me about that.
GARRY KASPAROV: That's one of the greatest challenges for any democracy when you just have to look at the privacy and security. Now this problem’s moved to digital era. I think it's wrong to expect that our data could be protected 100 per cent. Data collection is inevitable, whether it's by the government or by the big multinational corporations. The question is what will be done with this data. And here in Canada or in the United States or in most European countries, you're still protected by the legal system, by the rules, by the courts. While in countries like Russia, Turkey, Iran, China, if your information is available to the government, you'll be prosecuted with disrespect to any legal restrictions, even if they do exist. So I think it's about what the government can do with this information and we have to look more at that site. How can we limit the government's use of this information because it will be collected anyway? Let's be honest. It's going to happen because we want our data to be protected, but at the same time we want governments to make sure that the hacking attacks—that by the way could be far more dangerous because the hackers, they don't respect any rules and if it's the states like Russia or China, they will just go after you, after your data with malice intent.
AMT: Let's talk a little bit more about Russia. There have been a lot of accusations against President Putin that he and his intelligence agencies are using cyber warfare to undermine democracies in the West. What do you think that endgame is about?
GARRY KASPAROV: It's a part of Putin's plan to stay in power endlessly because since the Russian economy is falling and he doesn't expect it to get better. Nobody thinks that oil will go back to 100 dollar plus price tag. He needs to justify his stay in power and confrontation with the free world is a very important element of that. Putin needs confrontation. Putin needs to spread chaos and attacking democracy as an institution helps his propaganda machine in Russia to demonstrate that democracy is what? It’s a cover up. Everything is rigged and dismantling the aura of democracy as an important part of the human progress helps Putin and other dictators to send the message domestically that people shouldn't go to the streets demanding for elections.
AMT: You know all about this. I said you ran for president. You actually wanted to run for president in Russia. They wouldn't let you run. Am I right?
GARRY KASPAROV: Running for president in Russia, it's quite an exaggeration because in countries like Putin's Russia, you cannot participate in political life the same way you can do it here in Canada. You cannot register a political party. You cannot do fundraising. You cannot campaign openly. The only debate in Russia is debate with riot police on the streets. So my campaign in 2007 was just to bring attention to the fact that even if you wanted to run, you will be stopped by rules that are imposed by the government to make sure that nobody who is not approved by Kremlin could get to the ballot.
AMT: Where do you live?
GARRY KASPAROV: In New York, Upper West Side.
AMT: Do you do spend time in Moscow now or can you not do that?
GARRY KASPAROV: I left Moscow four years ago because I know now that trip back to Moscow will be one way trip to me.
AMT: Yeah. That says a lot about human rights in Russia.
GARRY KASPAROV: Look, it's a dictatorship. I think it's amazing that people are still asking about the nature of Putin's regime after what he did in Ukraine, after what he did in Syria and not even saying after what he did in Russia, Russia proper. And now he keeps attacking other countries. It's not only the United States. You can look at Europe—France, Great Britain, now Germany. Putin keeps raising stakes because again, he knows only the confrontation could help him to justify he stay power.
AMT: So how do you process the news today, the news yesterday from the Washington Post that President Trump shared classified intelligence information with the Russian foreign minister on ISIS?
GARRY KASPAROV: Are you surprised?
AMT: Well, they're denying it.
GARRY KASPAROV: No, no, no. They said—unless I'm wrong—but the statement from the White House from General McMaster, the head of National Security Council was that neither sources nor methods have been released.
AMT: That’s right. But the Post is saying they got enough information that the Russians can figure it out.
GARRY KASPAROV: I guess that's typical for Trump. He was bragging. They talked about Syria. Trump, I think again, as Obama administration has mistakenly looking for Russian cooperation in Syria, though Putin has no interest in helping Americans there. And Trump was bragging about some of the US operations there and I'm not surprised that in the process of all this conversation trying to impress his counterparts, he revealed—I think it was unintended, but it's typical for Trump. He’s uncontrolled. He could tweet it and then had Lavrov and Russian ambassador Kislyak. So he told them something that I've no doubt has been already used by Russian intelligence to identify the source on the ground and to turn it into their advantage.
AMT: You think Trump has actually been good for a lot of Americans.
GARRY KASPAROV: Trump effect was good for many Americans because for many years, I've been talking to Americans about problems with human rights elsewhere and many of them shrugged their shoulders, had dismissive reaction. That’s happening somewhere else in Russia, in Iran, in China. Never in America. Uh-huh. Welcome. Now they realize that as once Ronald Reagan said: freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. So Trump effect, I think, will have a long term positive impact on bringing young Americans into politics. People now are learning about US Constitution, about the foundation of the Republic independent judiciary and by the way, one thing that worked in favour of all human rights activists in the world is the clash between Donald Trump and US courts. I could see how Russian propaganda machines stumbled. After Trump signed the executive order, American court, just a judge from a backward state simply just overruled. And instead of arresting the judge, Trump had no choice to go to the Appeal Court and lost again. So for countries like Russia or Iran, that tells that for ordinary people that democracy and separation of power works and this is quite an important message. So I think the conflict between Trump's ego and personality and US political institutions could produce good results both in America and outside, though of course we can expect such blows as happened two days ago because the man definitely is not qualified for the job.
AMT: What's next for you?
GARRY KASPAROV: I’m still engaged in promoting the game of chess through Kasparov Chess Foundation across the world. I’m engaged in promoting human rights as a chairman of human rights foundation. I keep writing books. I'm doing more and more speeches because people are concerned about the future of AI and the future of humanity. So there are many things where I could apply my experience and my own intelligence and the life is busier than ever.
AMT: Do you see the world through the prism of the strategies that you learned in chess? Like for such a long time and from such an early age, you learned to think very strategically.
GARRY KASPAROV: I try to apply my chess knowledge, what I learned from the game of chess, to analyze different situations around the world. And I have to say that we are now in a great need of the long term strategy. That's one of the biggest challenges for the free world, that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, there was no strategy to replace the strategy that helped win the Cold War.
AMT: Garry Kasparov, thanks for coming in. Nice to talk to you.
GARRY KASPAROV: Thanks for inviting me.
AMT: That is Garry Kasparov. He's a human rights activist. He was the world's youngest chess champion. His new book is called Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins. He's with me in our Toronto studio. Let us know what you think of what he has to say today. You can tweet us. We are @thecurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook. Go to our website, www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. Now tune in tomorrow to hear our documentary about a remarkable soccer league in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. The Mathare Youth Sports Association or MYSA—M-Y-S-A—was started by a Canadian public servant named Bob Munro 30 years ago. To earn points, the teams had to win games and do community service as well. Today, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans have come through that program. Many alumni say it's changed their lives and their community. And one of those people is Maqulate Onyango, who is someone who joined the league when she was just nine years old. Now she's employed by the same organization.
My brothers, now they’re in school and even our last born brother has joined the secondary school because whatever MYSA is paying me, I make sure that I pay the education of my siblings and life has really changed. And even today when we sit with my family on a round table to talk, they can't believe that they are eating football, sleeping football and their kids are going to school because of football. Up to today for us, it’s still a dream and my dad even today, asks me, this football thing, I didn't know that it can change somebody's life.
AMT: Well, we will hear the full documentary on The Current tomorrow. Dick Gordon will bring us that documentary tomorrow on The Current.Back To Top »
When does a teenager's cellphone use become an addiction?
Guests: Lisa Pont, John Laprise
AMT: Hello. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and this is The Current.
I don't think I’m addicted to it, but I think the amount of time I’m on it, it’s not good.
AMT: That's a Winnipeg teenager and the mind-altering stuff she and her friends can't get enough of is not a new drug. It is their phones.
VOICE 1: Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. You’re constantly on it so you're always talking. So when you meet face to face, sometimes like you don't have much to say anymore. That's a pretty sad thing, I think.
VOICE 2: Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. I say I spend about four hours on my cellphone. When I forget my cellphone at home, I feel empty.
VOICE 3: I'd say I'm on my cell phone about five hours a day. I definitely think there’s a cellphone addiction. A lot of my friends are on their phone 24/7, can’t put it down. Everyone's looking down at their lap on their phone, figuring out what they're doing next and not living in the moment, I guess. I mean it's an addictive thing.
VOICE 4: I'm on my cellphone all day. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat. My parents gave me a hard time about being on my phone.
VOICE 5: I think I could become addicted to my cell phone. Talking to friends, you know just scrolling through the news or anything like that. My parents don't give me as much of a hard time as they used to. I think when I was maybe like between grade seven and eight. It was probably when I first got my cellphone. I think that when I usually probably didn’t go to bed for a longer period of time because I was on it. So sometimes they would say maybe do you want us to like take it away from you before you go to bed so that you're actually going to sleep and not going on your phone?
VOICE 6: Yeah, I think people can get addicted to their phones because I'm addicted to my phone. Just a few weeks ago, my phone screen was broken and I had to go like a week and a half without it. I felt like I had lost a friend.
AMT: Well, yesterday we heard from Adam Alter, the author of a new book called Irresistible, all about addictive technology. And to hear those Winnipeg teens describe their relationships with their phones, addiction seems about right. Just consider the jitters caused in Toronto schools last week when the city's school board blocked access to Netflix, Instagram and Snapchat on its Wi-Fi networks. This is spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz.
It was taking up about 20 per cent of our bandwidth. So in other words, traffic to those sites was intense. Those are big numbers. And what it was doing is causing tremendous problems for our system as a whole. What I'm told from our IT department is they've done analytics and they found that the majority of the usage was “recreational”.
AMT: This week, a Victoria, BC school announced it's implementing a cold turkey approach. It's going to ban cellphones altogether from its schools in September. My next guest works on the front lines of this issue. Lisa Pont is a social worker at CAMH, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. She works with teens who struggle with what she calls “problematic use of their phones and other technologies” and she's in our Toronto studio. Hi.
LISA PONT: Hi.
AMT: What are you thinking as you listen to those teenagers?
LISA PONT: It makes sense to me. Like I don't think it's only a young people problem. I think as an adult who has a smartphone, I can relate to some of those feelings. I've left my phone at home before and felt anxious the entire day.
AMT: What's the relationship between the teens you see and their phones?
LISA PONT: It's not just a phone. It represents their entire universe, from how they communicate with their friends, their schedule, sometimes how they access their homework. So when they are away from that device, they feel lost.
AMT: Well, and addiction is a loaded word. Can someone be addicted to a cell phone?
LISA PONT: It is a loaded word and that's why we call our program “problem technology use”, not addiction, because it's not like either you have an addiction or you don't. You can have problems with technology use without having an addiction. So it's on a continuum in terms of the level of severity of the problem, as well as the functional impact. So if people are like oh, do I have an addiction or don't I? Basically we're looking at are there negative consequences associated with your use. Because I see folks in a hospital in a tertiary care setting, I'm going to see the more severe end of the continuum so I can appreciate that. But we are seeing things like low academic performance, inverted sleep schedules, health issues, mood issues. They're getting consequences in multiple domains of their life.
AMT: So what is the mechanism of that—well, I'll use the word addiction—like what are they actually drawn to? What's going on in their brains? What's happening?
LISA PONT: Those phones and the apps and different activities on them are designed to be compelling. It's just starting with the device and all the notifications that you get. So the ding that you get when you have a text, the red light that shows up if you have an e-mail, we're hardwired to respond to that. And actually every time we see a like on Facebook, we get a bit of a dopamine surge. So it's a highly reinforcing instrument and depending on what activity you do on it, you can have even more reinforcement. So for example, you could be gaming online, gambling online, shopping, watching pornography, and all of those things are reinforcing activities above and beyond the reinforcements that the technology provides.
AMT: So how many teens struggle with a phone addiction or some kind of problematic use of their phones and their technology?
LISA PONT: I think it's fairly common. I think the majority of the folks that we see at CAMH are gaming but that's expanding to social networking and often people aren't just doing one thing. So because it’s this portable thing that you can do just about anything on, it's a really appealing thing.
AMT: And are they more at risk as teens than an adult would be?
LISA PONT: Absolutely. I think they're saying now that the brain isn't fully developed until you're 25 which means that you probably don't have the same amount of impulse control as an adult would. And novelty seeking and independence are things that are more standouts when you're younger. Social approval. So the kinds of things like Facebook and likes and how many friends you have are important to adults, but probably even more important to young people.
AMT: And do you see increasing, the number of kids who you actually deal with? The kinds of problems they have?
LISA PONT: Absolutely. So we started off seeing folks with problem technology use within the gambling program at CAMH because it was the only other behavioural addiction and there was online gambling so there was crossover. I would say probably at least half of our clients are problem tech users.
AMT: And when did that happen? Like how many years ago?
LISA PONT: We probably started seeing folks come in with problem technology use about eight, nine years ago.
AMT: And it's just then accelerated since that time.
LISA PONT: Yeah.
AMT: And which teens would be most at risk for that kind of neediness with our smartphone, say?
LISA PONT: I think the folks that end up getting more serious negative consequences can be people that have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, high functioning autism, what we used to call Asperger's, people with anxiety, in particular social anxiety. Any kind of mood issues, self-esteem issues, when there's conflict in the home, there's going to be a higher vulnerability.
AMT: Now and it seems that virtually all teens are on their phones a lot. How would a parent know if their teenager has a problem or if they have a problem?
LISA PONT: It's a good question. I think that many of us are what you might call heavy users, so it can be a bit challenging to determine how much is too much. So I think part of it is around what the values of the home are. They think it's important to not have your devices during dinner and your kid just can't resist it. But I think it's really looking at are you noticing sort of withdraw from things that they used to be interested in? More frequent checking? Longer periods of use? That they may be choosing their phone over other things that they used to do? I think those are the kinds of things you're looking at as well as changes in their mood or if they're irritable when they're away from their phone, lower grades, tired because they're not sleeping as much because they're on their phones. That kind of thing.
AMT: So when you see these teenagers, this is how the use of technology has impacted their lives?
LISA PONT: Yeah. I see overall poor mental health and poor physical health. So we know that youth are not sleeping as much as they need to. They're sleeping less than they ever have. I mean I would hazard a guess that technology has something to do with it. If you have your phone next to you in bed and you know you're just on your way to sleep and then you get a text, it's hard to resist checking it and then you end up staying up longer than maybe you intended. And the way that people socialize and their amount of presence, their ability to tolerate things like boredom. Sometimes I think I can't remember what I used to do in a lineup without my phone. And we know that when you have time to just not be engaged, that's what fosters creativity. That's what maybe would prompt us to have a conversation with somebody off line. So those opportunities get lost and I think when you have a lower tolerance for boredom and you're always sort of satisfying your impulses, that we know that those things are risk factors for addiction in general—the inability to delay gratification and boredom.
AMT: You talked about socializing earlier. Do friendships change? Do you see that happening in the lives of the young people you're dealing with?
LISA PONT: There's people that have friends offline that they also socialize with online and then there's folks that have friends that they've never met offline but feel quite connected to them. So that's something that could only happen with the advent of technology, which is actually can be quite beneficial for really isolated kids or kids that are getting bullied. They can find community and connect with other people. But we don't ever want that to be at the risk of developing social skills and addressing those underlying issues that maybe make it hard for them to have offline relationships.
AMT: And that kids you see, are they developing community or are they more withdrawn than that?
LISA PONT: I think it's both. There's a lot of folks that I see at CAMH that definitely have online friends and maybe in their offline life, they don't have a lot of people that they could connect with.
AMT: What did they say they get from their phones and their other technology then?
LISA PONT: I think it's stimulation. I think a lot of it is something to do. I think you sort of have this reinforcing behaviour. So they might not be able to identify it as I get this reward, but it feels good. It feels good to go online and see a picture that you posted has garnered attention.
AMT: What do you hear from parents about their struggles to manage their kids’ use of this technology?
LISA PONT: There's a lot of conflict. They are always online. That's a common refrain. They don't want to do anything else. Their grades are suffering. I wake up at two in the morning and I see that he's on his phone. They're worried about their child's long-term success.
AMT: We did speak to a mom, Sally Benson, a Toronto mother. She's got a 17-year-old daughter. They've had ups and downs in managing phone use since her daughter first got her phone at 14. We asked if she would consider taking away her daughter's phone. Listen to the answer.
It's a really tough question because socially, that's what they're used to. Socially that's how they connect. Unless they actually make arrangements to see their friends, that’s their lifeline. So I have to be honest—no, it probably isn't fair especially by the time a teenager is mid-teens, to take away the thing that connects them to the thing that drives their world, pretty much. It's like oh dammit, there's nothing we can do about it. We can fret. But other than giving your kid a flip phone—which you know is going to alienate your teenager from you forever—it's just the way it is. I'm resigned to it, I guess.
AMT: Lisa Pont, what do you think? Should phones be taken away from teenagers when they overuse them?
LISA PONT: I hear that a lot, like the resignation. Parents feel unsure. They might feel powerless because they recognize how crucial this is to their child's life and they get such a huge reaction from their child when they try to limit it or take it away. So I think maybe there's some middle ground, like we try to kind of help you use this technology in a healthier way because technology isn't going anywhere, including smartphones, although it could shift into something else. So how do we help our young people and ourselves use the technology in a more healthy way?
AMT: Well, we heard Adam Alter talk about like moving the phone away even. You know? Like a lot of people have their phones right by the bed? I do too. Maybe we need to move them away. Even small things like that, does that help? Like what do you tell parents to do?
LISA PONT: So I think that it really depends on the situation but I think there are things that you can do that can make it less tempting. So people are doing things like not keeping their phones with them at night and that's actually a strong recommendation for parents particularly as a prevention strategy. It's harder to take something away than it is to not give it to somebody in the first place so they don't get used to it. So no technology in the bedroom is a good way to start. You'll hear people say but it's my alarm clock. They do sell alarm clocks that are not smartphones. So you can get another alarm clock. People do things like turning off alerts or putting their phones on airplane mode when they're studying. But I think kids are so used to being connected that there's almost an anxiety that they have about missing something or not responding to somebody right away, so people feel like it's a real social faux pas if somebody texts you not to text back. So I even talk about like managing that anxiety, letting your friends know that you're going to be offline for a couple hours and that you'll get back to them. Anything that can help people focus.
AMT: Adam Alter talked about something called nomophobia—the no mobile phone, the phobia of that. How much of this is also the parents? Quite a while ago we talked to Sherry Turkle about the end of conversation and she said that what she discovered as she started to study the use of technology was that the kids wouldn't look at their smartphones at dinner until the parents did. So the parents were doing it and then the kids did it. So what do adults have to know about modeling?
LISA PONT: That's huge because adults will be like but it's for work. But unless you're a heart surgeon, you could probably wait. Most of us could anyway. So when it becomes a situation as do as I say, not as I do, that can really be difficult. And sometimes kids want their parents’ attention and their parents aren't giving it. And sometimes parents want to be able to keep in touch with their kids. So outside of role modeling, sometimes it's the parents that have reluctance about taking the phone away because they're used to being able to contact their kids whenever they want to.
AMT: How successful is your program in treating young people with these issues?
LISA PONT: I think we're more successful when we can get the family on board because I've only got the kid for an hour a week. They live with them.
AMT: What do you think the long term consequences could be for this generation of teens and their relationship with their phones and other technology?
LISA PONT: So people are talking about phones becoming an attachment object to people, that it's almost like an adult pacifier. The idea that they aren't just benign mediums, that we have a connection to them because they represent all these different things to us, that literature is starting to show things like poor social skills, low empathy, high distractibility, poor memory, lack of creativity. So there are implications. So it may not be as physically risky as maybe some substances, but it's not a benign medium and there can be negative consequences—some more subtle, some that we'll only see as the years go by.
AMT: Okay. Thanks for your thoughts.
LISA PONT: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
AMT: Lisa Pont, social worker at CAMH, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. She works with teens who struggle with overuse of phones and other technologies. She was in our Toronto studio. Well, it can be hard for some teens to put down the smartphone, walk away from social media feeds. All that screen time may not be all bad, at least according to my next guest. John Laprise is a consulting scholar in Internet policy and governance. He has studied the history of technology. He joins us from Chicago, Illinois. Hello.
JOHN LAPRISE: Hello.
AMT: What do you make of the concerns about problem smartphone use—smartphone and other technology—even addiction among teens?
JOHN LAPRISE: Well, I think we have to be cautious because with every new technology, we have accompanying moral panic, especially when it comes to children and teens. If you look back to the original telephone and to TV, any communications technology, adults are always concerned about the effects of these technologies on children. Really with the telephone, children get used to it. Society gets used to it and we accommodate it. So I think we have to be cautious by not overblowing the impact of the technology.
AMT: Do you think the level of concern is justified though? I mean we just heard that kids are going to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for counseling on these issues.
JOHN LAPRISE: Well, I think that it is a concern and I would echo the previous speaker about the importance of parenting. A lot of it has to do with building resilience among children and parents are a key part of that. So having that early conversation with children before they become teens about smartphone use—that's crucial to building good habits for good technology.
AMT: And now you talked about the earlier technologies from TV to telephones. But you also talk about the game Dungeons and Dragons and what we can learn from that in terms of something that sort of captures the imagination of teens. You want to take me through that?
JOHN LAPRISE: Sure. So in the 1980s when Dungeons and Dragons became really popular, at least popular in public mind, there was an accompanying moral panic about everything from the religious threat to its leading impressionable children to play out fantasies in real life and endangering them. What we find today is that in a lot of creative industries, leaders in those industries actually attribute their success to playing roleplaying games when they were children.
AMT: Like Dungeons and Dragons.
JOHN LAPRISE: Yes, like Dungeons and Dragons. So it can be very difficult to determine what the long- term effects of technology, like a game like Dungeons and Dragons can have on society and on individuals.
AMT: And to be clear though—that was not an electronic game.
JOHN LAPRISE: Correct. But you know I'm trained as a historian of technology and it's still technology to my mind.
AMT: What advantages do you see in teenagers having full access on cell phones and to cell phones?
JOHN LAPRISE: Well, I think for particular groups, it's very advantageous. There's a concept in psychology called self-efficacy which is sort of your own personal perception of your self confidence in doing things. For teens and children in out groups, in discriminated groups, whatever they may be, smartphones enable those people to build their own self-confidence in the course of using their technology. And this has a bleed over effect into other areas of life where they develop more confidence in doing other things outside the technology per se.
AMT: So there are those who would say they're also open to more bullying through the electronics of the smartphone. But you're saying there's an advantage as well.
JOHN LAPRISE: Yeah. It's a two-edged sword. I mean it cuts both ways. Again, going back to parenting, coping with the disadvantages is a key part of being a good parent.
AMT: Talk to me a little bit more then, of the groups of teenagers that you see as particularly benefiting from access to smartphones.
JOHN LAPRISE: Any out groups. So you can think of in some cases children and teens who are bullied find support online from other bullied groups. If you're in a minority group, if you're facing any kind of discrimination, online you can find other people who have suffered similar discrimination and you build a bond with those people and you find support where it might be difficult to publicly ask for support from a peer group. And your peer group may be very, very small in real life, but you can find the larger peer group online that can be supportive and helpful.
AMT: We're talking about kids in North America of course, but you've spent time working in Qatar. What have you seen with smartphone use there?
JOHN LAPRISE: It has a dramatic effect. Gender roles are very strictly defined. And I see that one of the big effects is the role on teen relations between the sexes. Where before maybe even five or 10 years ago, female teenagers would have very little communication with teenagers of the opposite gender, they now can be texting with them, communicating with them. Dating is not permissible in the society per se, but arranging for sort of surreptitious coffees in the same coffee shop where you're sitting at adjacent tables is now quite common. So it enables a kind of socialization that wasn't there previously.
AMT: And when you see a benefit like that, despite that, is overuse of a smartphone potentially harmful to the socialization for the average teen?
JOHN LAPRISE: Yeah, I think so. I mean overuse of anything is potentially harmful. All things in moderation. Again, having that conversation between children and their parents about what is reasonable smartphone? What is reasonable Internet use?
AMT: And as a health professional, she was reluctant to use the word addiction in talking about a lot of these people that she sees, but other people do use addiction. How do you react to that word?
JOHN LAPRISE: I think of it more as a kind of conditioning. I wouldn't say addiction because usually addiction has some physiological aspects to it. No one's going to go through detox—literal physical detox—from putting down their smartphone.
AMT: Do you think the concern over addiction to cell phones, smartphones is overblown?
JOHN LAPRISE: To some degree, I think it is overblown. I mean I think it plays into this moral panic aspect. That said I know when I was teaching university that I did not allow cell phones in my classroom. I wanted students’ attention focused on the lesson, the content of the class.
AMT: How would you suggest teenagers and their parents get the most out of their smartphone use and don't end up wasting their time?
JOHN LAPRISE: I think a lot of it just comes down to having a conversation and having an ongoing set of conversations, having check-in times on a weekly basis to talk about well, what’d you learn this week? Did you find any new apps? What's really cool? Are you protecting your privacy? Are you practicing good safety online? Those kinds of things repeatedly communicated between parents and their children over time is what's going to make those children when they become adults smart, informed smartphone users.
AMT: John Laprise, thanks for your thoughts today.
JOHN LAPRISE: Thank you very much for having me on.
AMT: John Laprise, consulting scholar and Internet policy and governance. He has studied the history of technology. He's in Chicago, Illinois. Well, we want to hear your thoughts about this issue. Are you a teen who feels the constant pull of your smartphone or are you a parent who worries your teen’s screen time is taking away from face to face time? Or do you think these worries are simply overblown? Tweet us @thecurrentCBC, post on this story on our Facebook page. E-mail us by clicking on contact at www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. If you missed my conversation with Adam Alter yesterday, the author of Irresistible, you will find that on our site. Also you can find it on our CBC Radio app.
[Music: “Phone Down” – Erykah Badu]
AMT: Grammy winning artist Erykah Badu knows she is more interesting than your screen. We are curious to hear how much you are on your phone. Take a guess then take a 24-hour challenge to check how much you actually use it. We have links on our site to a few apps to track your use. Try it. Let us know how you did on Twitter on Facebook or e-mail us. While you're on your phone, record an audio message telling us about your experiment. E-mail it to us. Tell us what you've found and your reaction.
[Music: “Phone Down” – Erykah Badu]
AMT: And that's our program for today. Stay with Radio One for q. Meat Loaf speaks with guest host Ali Hassan about Bat Out Of Hell, the musical. Well, after my discussion with chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov today, we're going to end things with another side of the story. Mr. Kasparov of course was defeated by the IBM computer Deep Blue. We're going to leave you with the voices of some of the IBM workers who helped create and program Deep Blue and what the experience of defeating Garry Kasparov was like from their perspective. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thanks for listening to The Current
VOICE 1: The world was paying a lot of attention and we weren’t quite used to that.
VOICE 2: Chess events never get covered like that. It was probably the biggest news coverage for a chess match ever.
VOICE 1: We were trying to prove that it was possible to build a chess machine that could beat the best human player in the world. There were people who even if just a few years before said it was going to take decades to do.
VOICE 2: The chess world all expected Kasparov to win because the human had always won before.
VOICE 1: We’d worked very hard in the intervening year to improve Deep Blue in various ways.
VOICE 2: I spent a lot of time in the office playing a lot of practice games, looking for lots of errors that needed to be fixed.
VOICE 1: And we were pretty confident that it would do better.
VOICE 2: Then we got to the match. That was the chance to see did we make a difference.
VOICE 3: Garry Kasparov has arrived.
VOICE 1: He was under tremendous stress, I imagine.
VOICE 2: He thought that he was going to figure out the computer.
VOICE 1: And he wasn't mentally prepared for it, I think. I was dumbfounded and elated at the same time. I was dumbfounded because I’d never seen him behave that way. You’d never imagine the world champion—as somebody I have great respect—to be just raising his hands up in surrender.
[Music: Ending theme]
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